Penguins in the Fields

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January 4th 2011
Published: May 20th 2011
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Day 121-122
4th-5th January

Knowing we were not that far from Dunedin we took our time getting there the next morning. We were not to do our next wedding present until late that evening (Penguins in the Forest) so we planned to hang out in Dunedin for a bit before heading up to the Otago Peninsular. We had a couple of things we also wanted to sort out as well. First of all, some eejit had taken the wing mirror cover on the drivers side and knowing that it we took it back to the hire company like that they would charge us $350 (ouch) we had decided to replace it ourselves (as long as it was cheaper). We drove out to Toyota only to find they were still shut because of New Year! Well ok then, we’d go to the flight centre to try and book our flights to Sydney, the flight centre was closed, godammit! So we spent some time in an internet cafe and then drove out to the Otago Peninsular. The Penguin centre had onsite accommodation and we’d decided to see if we could stay there. The road around the peninsular is a bit hair-raising. The road hugs the cliff and on one side there is the cliff and on the other side are no barriers and the ocean. As it happens there was room for us to stay and I was very glad, wasn’t in the mood to drive that again in a hurry! The accommodation was basic, but cheap and comfortable and a good place to base ourselves for the night.

We were there to see the very rare yellow eyed penguin. The penguins are based in the sand dunes, and fields on the coast, every morning they go out into the ocean to get food for the day, and then in the evening they swim back to the beach and go back to their homes in amongst the trees and bushes. We had booked on a tour to watch them return in the evening and we were very excited about it!

In the evening we walked down from the accommodation to the Penguin centre and watched a video about the penguins while we waited for the tour to start. There are several reasons why this species is so rare, first of all they need a very specific habitat on land and with the development of New Zealand, those areas are dwindling, also, the survival rate past adolescence is not very high as they are not trained by their parents to find food etc, they have to learn on the job. Finally with the change in sea temperature due to global warming there is less food for them. There are reserves set up, such as the one we were at to protect their habitat on land, but the rest is a bit beyond human control and they are not sure how long it will be before sadly this species becomes extinct.

After the video the guide arrived, it turned out we were the only 2 on the tour even though, the 2 tours either side of ours had a lot of people on them, sweet! We were put on a bus and driven across the farm to near where the penguin area was. The way the reserve is set up is that there is a series of hides which you access by camouflaged tunnels so there is as little interference with the penguins as possible. The adult penguins had not yet arrived home, so while we waiting for that, the guide took us round to see all the baby penguins that wait patiently for mum and dad to come home every day. Bless them, some of them are as big as the adults now and covered in grey fluffy feathers. They have no fear of humans and were just sitting there hanging out, so sweet! We then heard on the radio that one of the adults had landed and was on her way back to her chick, the guide settled us at a point where this adult normally walks back and we waited, and waited. Where was this penguin? So we went back to where her chick was, and low and behold, there was the adult! She had taken a different route and was about to give her baby its evening meal. The way they feed is hilarious. The adult does not want to give up the food easily and the baby runs around after its parents calling and nudging them until the parent gives in and feeds them. This happens several times until the parent has given up all the food the baby needs and then they turn their back on their chick! Harsh.

As it was getting late we headed down to the beach area so we could see the penguins returning. Ellory and I have always said that we would much prefer a ‘natural’ wildlife experience, where you can really see them in their natural habitat, and if you don’t get to see as much as you like, well fair enough, but we find it better than having animals paraded in front of us. However this time, we were very lucky and we got to see quite a few penguins emerging from the ocean. Depending on whether they feel safe or not, they will either hang out on the beach for a bit or race up into the sand dunes. The penguins obviously felt safe on the day we were there as they hung out on the beach for ages before walking up and it was amazing to watch. There were also lots of seals on the beach too so we definitely were not bored! We were then taken to see some of the other baby penguins, some who’s family had returned and they were just all chilling out and some babies who were still waiting patiently for the food to arrive.

Sadly our tour was all too short (in my opinion, maybe because I loved the penguins so much!) and we were taken back to the main centre. We’d had an awesome evening and we’re so glad we finally got to see the penguins!

Rhod, Anna, Harry, Jessica and Linda, thank you for that wedding present, the penguins were awesome!!

There is not a lot to report from the next day, we had to drive from Dunedin to Barrytown, a grand total of 580km, a seriously long day and I was pretty tired when we finally made it! Barrytown is where we were due to make our own knives the next day and apart from that, there is not a lot else to do there! We managed to find a homestay for the night which was run by a very lovely old couple who were very welcoming. Having decided we needed a drink after our very long day we walked to the pub. It’s the only one in town, pretty hard to miss! We then proceeded to have a really random night. The backpacker buses stop in Barrytown, so the pub was full of young people, and the pub had decided to have a fancy dress room at the back of the pub so as people got more drunk they could get dressed up! Well, Ellory and I thought this was a great idea and joined in and we all then went down to the village hall where a band were playing that night. It was a very strange but fun evening and we would definitely recommend Barrytown as a cool experience!

Love Liz xx

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